Peace at last - But parents worry about teens detained under state of emergency
While most residents of St James are now seeing real peace for the first time in quite a while as a result of the ongoing state of public emergency in the parish, others are not enjoying the tranquility, as they are worried about the tardiness in processing relatives detained by the security forces.
"They picked up my 17-year-old son from last Saturday and I have not been able to get any information on him since because we are not being allowed any visits," said veteran Montego Bay-based reggae singer Donald 'Jah Saint' Palmer. "My son is not a criminal; he is a student at the Spot Valley High School, where he represents the school's football team."
He continued, "I understand that they are holding him at the lock-up at the Barrett Town Police Station and my information is that there is no water at the police station. It means he has not had a bath or change of clothes since Saturday. While I do support the state of emergency in principle, they need to have a system in place to quickly process the detainees so that innocent people don't suffer unnecessarily."
Since the state of emergency was declared last week amid the wanton lawlessness, which had transformed the parish into the nation's murder capital, two rifles, one handgun and a quantity of ammunition have been seized by the security forces. A total of 197 persons, including some eight persons who have since been implicated in several murders, have been detained in various operations.
While he would like to see a smooth process in separating innocent detainees from those who are wanted for crimes, businessman Errol Lamey, who once led the now-defunct Mt Salem-based RELIEF (Restoring Enjoyable Living In Each Family) committee, said it was also time to set the foundation for lasting peace.
"I am quite pleased that the parish is finally at peace. It is only sad that it had to take a state of emergency to restore order," said Lamey, who said he was ready to reactivate RELIEF. "We need to capitalise on this peace so that when the police and soldiers leave, the crime and violence will not return."
However, as a result of the concerns being raised about the slowness in processing detainees and reports about the poor conditions at locations such as the Freeport and Barrett Town police lock-ups, where many are being held, Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry yesterday indicated that a team from her office would be visiting Montego Bay to get a first-hand look at the situation.
"Our concern relates not only to legal representation, but also to the general conditions under which these persons are being held," said Harrison Henry.
The Legal Aid Council and the Cornwall Bar Association (CBA) are also raising concerns about the reported challenges they are facing in getting information on detainees so that they can be provided with the requisite legal representation. Some 23 legal aid attorneys and six senior lawyers have been assigned to work with the detainees.
"We don't know what the police are doing with the persons they have in custody, we are just being told that they are being processed," said Stacey Ann Young, the president of the CBA. "We don't know what the processing entails and they don't know when or who they want to question, so we can schedule question-and-answer sessions."